One day at my afternoon nanny gig, I arrived to find the baby and his mama watching the English dub of My Neighbor Totoro. My girl sat down to watch. I have never seen her so captivated by television. She signed “more” every time Totoro left the screen and cried when the cat bus left. She wanted me to play it again, which I couldn’t do because I had to get the baby down for his nap.
She remembered the show the next day that I watched the baby. “Dew-dew,” she said, an adorable approximation of Totoro’s name. So we watched it again. She continued to ask for it, so I got her a copy. We’ve watched it at least once a day ever since. (Thank goodness we’re watching it in Japanese at home, or I might lose my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I love Totoro, but even I have my limits.)
She calls it “Doh-doh” now, can sign “cat bus,” and can say “Mei” as clear as a bell. She uses signs and words to tell me what’s going to happen next in the story. When playing outside I hear her talking about Totoro and “baby Totoro.” I couldn’t resist buying her a cat bus and a Totoro doll, and she plays with them every night before bed. It’s easy to relate daily life instances to the movie — rainstorms, making lunch, looking for things — and I’m convinced that her sudden interest in wearing hats is because Mei wears one. (Unfortunately, I can’t convince her to let me brush her hair “like Satsuki’s Mama does.”)
She requests to view it multiple times a day. By this point she doesn’t even watch it all the way through; she ignores it to play and then watches her favorite bits. However, she’d have it running constantly if I let her. Most days I don’t, but one terrible tantrum/exhaustion/illness day was a three Totoro day. We don’t mention it by name lest we invoke a demand; we call it her daily dose of “Vitamin T.”
At first I kicked myself for letting her get addicted to a show. Somehow I felt ok about allowing her one episode of the old Sesame Street, or two episodes of Fraggle Rock or Signing Times. But cartoons, even Japanese ones which have artistic merit, seemed like the slippery slope leading down to the 8 hour American daily average for TV viewing.
However, I have decided I don’t have a problem with it. The movie is gentle, with a slow pace perfect for her age. There is no violence. It shows loving family relationships, including a bath like we do at home. The children are well-behaved, help with chores, and play outside. They make friends with a nature spirit who helps them when they most need it. The girls are respectful to their elders and the spirits of their land. Folks have a cry and then feel better. The soundtrack is catchy but not annoying. What’s not to like? Heck, maybe she’ll learn some Japanese.